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Downsizing

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

Director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) is coming out with his latest film in December. Downsizing, which stars Kristin Wiig, Matt Damon, and Christoph Waltz, is about a world where humans are able to shrink themselves down to five inches tall.

When scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to over-population, Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in order to get small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures.

I’ve been waiting on this one since posting about nano sapiens last year:

When humans get smaller, the world and its resources get bigger. We’d live in smaller houses, drive smaller cars that use less gas, eat less food, etc. It wouldn’t even take much to realize gains from a Honey, I Shrunk Humanity scheme: because of scaling laws, a height/weight proportional human maxing out at 3 feet tall would not use half the resources of a 6-foot human but would use somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 of the resources, depending on whether the resource varied with volume or surface area. Six-inch-tall humans would potentially use 1728 times fewer resources.

I’m sure the movie skews more toward a generic fish-out-of-water tale rather than addressing the particular pros and cons of shrinking people down to the size of hamsters (e.g. cutting human life span by orders of magnitude), but I will still be first in line to see this one.

When eating at Pizza Hut was an experience

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

Retro Ramblings remembers when, in the 80s, eating at Pizza Hut was an experience and not just a matter of grabbing a bite at a fast food joint.

From the moment you walked in the place, you knew it was something special. You knew this was going to be something you’d remember, and it all started with the decor. The interior didn’t look like a fast food joint with it’s huge, sprawling windows, and cheap looking walls, or tiled floors. When you walked in, you were greeted by brick walls, with smaller windows, that had thick red fabric curtains pulled back, and a carpeted floor. It just felt higher-class than walking into McDonalds or Burger King.

The booths were high-backed, with thick padded vinyl seats and back rests. The high backs was also different from your usual eating out experience. These high backs gave you a sense of privacy, which was great for a date night. Also great for a date night were the candles on the tables. Those little red glass candles that were on every table, and were lit when you got to your seat. It was a little thing, but when added to everything else, it was quite the contribution. Your silverware was wrapped in a thick, cloth napkin that beat the heck out of the paper napkins everyone else was using at the time. And you could always count on the table being covered by a nice, red and white, checkered table cloth.

Pizza Hut was the #1 eating-out destination for me as a kid. My family never ate out much, so even McDonald’s, Arby’s, or Hardee’s was a treat. But Pizza Hut was a whole different deal. Did I enjoy eating salad at home? No way. But I had to have the salad bar at Pizza Hut. Did I normally eat green peppers, onions, and black olives? Nope…but I would happily chow down on a supreme pizza at Pizza Hut. And the deep dish pan pizza…you couldn’t get anything like that in rural Wisconsin, nor could you easily make it at home. Plus it was just so much food…you could eat as much as you wanted and there were still leftovers to take home. Plus, with those high-backed booths, you could play paper football without having the extra points go sailing into the next booth.

Halt and Catch Fire music playlist for season 4

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

Season four of Halt and Catch Fire finds the show in the 90s and the music has changed accordingly. Here’s the official playlist on Spotify.

See also the playlists for season 3, 1985, 1984, and many more from the show, including playlists for each main character.

Objects, a coffee table book of artifacts related to the New York City subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

NYC Subway objects

NYC Subway objects

From the team that brought us the reissues of the NASA Standards Manual and the NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual comes New York City Transit Authority: Objects by Brian Kelley (@ Amazon), a book full of photographs of artifacts related to the NYC subway and other transit systems in the city.

Kelley started collecting MTA MetroCards in 2011, and he quickly became fascinated by other Subway-related objects. This catalogue is the first of its kind — presenting a previously uncollated archive of subway ephemera that spans three centuries.

Kelley posts photos of many of the artifacts he’s found on Instagram.

A man got to have a code

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

In a multi-part series, ScreenPrism will be looking at the codes and values of some of the main characters in The Wire. The first installment is about Jimmy McNulty, who is “good po-lice” but also doesn’t always take personal responsibility for his actions (“what the fuck did I do?”).

The first ever sketch of Wonder Woman

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

Original Wonder Woman

This is the first ever sketch of Wonder Woman by H.G. Peter from 1941. On the drawing, Peter wrote:

Dear Dr. Marston, I slapped these two out in a hurry. The eagle is tough to handle — when in perspective or in profile, he doesn’t show up clearly — the shoes look like a stenographer’s. I think the idea might be incorporated as a sort of Roman contraption. Peter

The Wonder Woman character was conceived by William Moulton Marston, who based her on his wife Elizabeth Marston and his partner Olive Byrne. (Reading between the lines about WW’s creation, you get the sense that Elizabeth deserves at least some credit for genesis of the character as well.) On the same drawing, Marston wrote back to Peter:

Dear Pete — I think the gal with hand up is very cute. I like her skirt, legs, hair. Bracelets okay + boots. These probably will work out. See other suggestions enclosed. No on these + stripes — red + white. With eagle’s wings above or below breasts as per enclosed? Leave it to you. Don’t we have to put a red stripe around her waist as belt? I thought Gaines wanted it — don’t remember. Circlet will have to go higher — more like crown — see suggestions enclosed. See you Wednesday morning - WMM.

From Wikipedia:

Wonder Woman was created by the American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston (pen name: Charles Moulton), and artist Harry G. Peter. Olive Byrne, Marston’s lover, and his wife, Elizabeth, are credited as being his inspiration for the character’s appearance. Marston drew a great deal of inspiration from early feminists, and especially from birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger; in particular, her piece “Woman and the New Race”. The character first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in October 1941 and first cover-dated on Sensation Comics #1, January 1942. The Wonder Woman title has been published by DC Comics almost continuously except for a brief hiatus in 1986.

William, Elizabeth, Olive seemed like really interesting people. They lived together in a polyamorous relationship (which I imagine was fairly unusual for the 1940s) and William & Elizabeth worked together on inventing the systolic blood pressure test, which became a key component in the later invention of the polygraph test. Olive was a former student of William’s and became his research assistant, likely helping him with much of his work without credit.

Update: The upcoming film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a biographical drama about the lives of William, Elizabeth, and Olive. Here’s a trailer:

The Imaginary Worlds podcast also had an episode on the genesis of Wonder Woman (featuring New Yorker writer Jill Lepore, who wrote The Secret History of Wonder Woman):

(via @ironicsans & warren)

Time lapse of a Sol LeWitt wall drawing

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

Wall Drawing 797 is a conceptual artwork by Sol LeWitt consisting of instructions that anyone can use to make a drawing. I found this at The Kid Should See This1 and I cannot improve on their description:

How does one person’s actions influence the next person’s actions in a shared space? Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings explore this intricate visual butterfly effect in the collaborative art entitled Wall Drawing 797, a conceptual piece that can be drawn by following LeWitt’s instructions. (He died in 2007.)

“Intricate visual butterfly effect” is such a good way of putting it. I have a huge wall right above my desk…I kind of want to make my own Wall Drawing 797 now.

  1. You should be reading The Kid Should See This even if you don’t have children. It’s always so good and interesting.

Beyonce’s How To Make Lemonade box set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

How To Make Lemonade Beyonce

Last month, Beyonce released a collector’s edition box set of her latest album called How To Make Lemonade. The set is $300 and includes Lemonade on vinyl as well as downloadable digital versions of the audio and visual albums. But the star of the show here is the 600-page coffee table book full of photos, stories, and poetry about the making of the album.

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade is still my favorite album of the past few years.

The Drone King, a previously unpublished Kurt Vonnegut short story

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

The Atlantic has just put up a previously unpublished short story by Kurt Vonnegut, The Drone King. It’s about bees.

He examined the card for a long time. “Yes,” he said at last. “Mr. Quick is expecting you. You’ll find him in the small library — second door on the left, by the grandfather clock.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I started past him.

He caught my sleeve. “Sir—”

“Yes?,” I said.

“You aren’t wearing a boutonniere, are you?”

“No,” I said guiltily. “Should I be?”

“If you were,” he said, “I’d have to ask you to check it. No women or flowers allowed past the front desk.”

I paused by the door of the small library. “Say,” I said, “you know this clock has stopped?”

“Mr. Quick stopped it the night Calvin Coolidge died,” he said.

I blushed. “Sorry,” I said.

“We all are,” he said. “But what can anyone do?”

An audio version of the article is available.

The story is one of five that Vonnegut wrote in the early 1950s that were recently discovered in the author’s papers. These five, plus all of Vonnegut’s other short stories, will be out in book form later this month.

New study: natural selection is getting rid of mutations that shorten human life

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

A massive genetic study led by Hakhamanesh Mostafavi, an evolutionary biologist at Columbia, suggests that evolution is weeding out certain genetic mutations in humans that shorten people’s lives.

Mostafavi and his colleagues tested more than 8 million common mutations, and found two that seemed to become less prevalent with age. A variant of the APOE gene, which is strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease, was rarely found in women over 70. And a mutation in the CHRNA3 gene associated with heavy smoking in men petered out in the population starting in middle age. People without these mutations have a survival edge and are more likely to live longer, the researchers suggest.

This is not, by itself, evidence of evolution at work. In evolutionary terms, having a long life isn’t as important as having a reproductively fruitful one, with many children who survive into adulthood and birth their own offspring. So harmful mutations that exert their effects after reproductive age could be expected to be ‘neutral’ in the eyes of evolution, and not selected against.

But if that were the case, there would be plenty of such mutations still kicking around in the genome, the authors argue. That such a large study found only two strongly suggests that evolution is “weeding” them out, says Mostafavi, and that others have probably already been purged from the population by natural selection.

Studio Ghibli characters in real world scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

A South Korean video editor named Kojer took characters from Studio Ghibli films and digitally inserted them into real world scenes and background. So you get to see Ponyo running on a lake, Totoro waiting in the rain on an actual train platform, the Catbus running through a real meadow, and Howl’s castle moving through a city.

This is super-cool…the effect is nearly seamless. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how he did the rotoscoping, touch-ups, background replacement, and shadow work on the animated characters:

It’s incredible how much the tools and technology have advanced when one person using off-the-shelf software on a single computer can do what took months to accomplish using traditional cel animation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Tycho’s 2017 Burning Man DJ set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

Every year at Burning Man, Tycho does a 2-hour DJ set coinciding with the sunrise. Here’s 2017’s installment. You can also go back and listen to sunrise sets from 2016, 2015, and 2014. There, now your whole day is chill.

Study: watching Fox News has big effect on voting patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

A newly released study by Gregory Martin and Ali Yurukolu published in the American Economic Review shows that watching Fox News has a significant effect on the overall Republican vote share in Presidential elections. They analyzed the channel position of the three major cable networks (Fox News, MSNBC, CNN), compared it to voting patterns, and found that “Fox News increases Republican vote shares by 0.3 points among viewers induced into watching 2.5 additional minutes per week by variation in position”. Using that result, they constructed a model to estimate the overall influence.

In other results, we estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the overall Republican presidential vote share by 0.46 percentage points. The predicted effect increases in 2004 and 2008 to 3.59 and 6.34 percentage points, respectively. This increase is driven by increasing viewership on Fox News as well as an increasingly conservative slant. Finally, we find that the cable news channels’ potential for influence on election outcomes would be substantially larger were ownership to become more concentrated.

6.3% is an astounding effect. Fox News appears to be uniquely persuasive when compared to the other channels, particularly in bringing people across the aisle:

Were a viewer initially at the ideology of the median Democratic voter in 2008 to watch an additional three minutes of Fox News per week, her likelihood of voting Republican would increase by 1.03 percentage points. Another pattern that emerges from the table is that Fox is substantially better at influencing Democrats than MSNBC is at influencing Republicans.

They also estimate that cable news has contributed greatly to the rise in political polarization in the US over the period studied:

Furthermore, we estimate that cable news can increase polarization and explain about two-thirds of the increase among the public in the United States, and that this increase depends on both a persuasive effect of cable news and the existence of tastes for like-minded news.

This analysis is especially interesting/relevant when you consider other recent activist media efforts with an eye toward conservative influence: the Russian ad-buying on Facebook during the last election (and related activities), billionaire Trump-backer Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, and conservative-leaning Sinclair Media’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. (via mr)

What would happen if you brought a tiny piece of the Sun to Earth?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

Kurzgesagt asks and answers the question: what happens if we bring the Sun to the Earth? Since the density and makeup of the Sun varies, they go over scenarios of sampling a house-size chunk from four different spots of the Sun: the chromosphere, the photosphere, the radiative zone, and the core. The answers range from “not much” to “well, that was a terrifically bad idea”.

The life cycle of a t-shirt

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

In a video for TED-Ed, Angel Chang takes us through the life cycle of a typical t-shirt, from cotton to rags, with a focus on the embodied energy of the manufacture and use of a shirt. For instance, because of how it’s produced and shipped around the world, clothing production accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.

See also Planet Money’s T-shirt Project.